Friday, July 31, 2009


One of the weird things about going to the movies these days is sitting through the trailers for upcoming releases. Sometimes they seem to be actively attempting to turn you away from the movies they're ostensibly promoting. In most cases, they're so formulaic you never want to go to the theater again. Often they're jaw-droppingly awful. And once in awhile, they actually make you think, "Holy crap, I can't wait."

Consider this.

I have very mixed feelings about this. As a huge fan of stop-motion animation, my initial thought is that I hate this--the characters move in a generic, uninteresting way, as if the animators were only interested in moving the models from Point A to Point B and didn't care about such niceties as characterization.

On the other hand, this movie is a unique case: the first animated film directed by Wes Anderson. The acting in his films is always particularly stylized, designed to be part of a larger aesthetic, coordinated with his very particular use of settings and camera set-ups. That seems to be what he's going for here, in a radically different context, and there's no way of knowing whether his experiment will be successful until we see the final film.

This trailer, however, is mostly awful. From the generic "Based on the book by the author of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" credit--Really? They think nobody will recognize Roald Dahl's name?--to the emphasis on the big name voice cast to the forced light-hearted tone, this is made to look like a standard issue Dreamworks animated picture, full of wacky action and zany characters. But it's a Wes Anderson picture, which means it will most likely be more melancholy than anything else. I understand why the studio may not want to promote it that way, but I can easily imagine lots of pissed-off kids and parents complaining about this movie when it opens, feeling that the movie advertised wasn't the movie they were given.

Two thoughts on this one. The first time I saw this in the theater, I was with Paul, who, when the title appeared, asked, "Are they actually saying all this is going to happen in 2012?" When I told him yes, that's the idea, he shook his head and said, "I don't think so." When a nine-year-old is mocking your very premise, you're in trouble.

But my other thought is, if you look at old school disaster movies, the two that work best--to the extent that they work at all--are The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. The reason for that is, they are about very specific situations: A cruise ship turned upside down, a skyscaper on fire. Everything that happens follows from that premise: How do we get out of this ship? How do we put out the fire? Another movie from that era that tried to ramp up the disaster formula to near-apocalyptic levels was Earthquake, and aside from terrible acting and a laughable script, its main problem was that there was so much going on, floods and fire and falling debris and runaway elevators and collapsing houses, that it became too much, and the sheer overkill became laughable.

Multiply that problem by a million and you have 2012, the movie that boldly assumes that, when the whole world is ending, we actually care what happens to John Cusack.

Oh, dear God. This, more than anything else, is the type of trailer I hate sitting through. It's utterly generic, reveals all the plot points, robs the movie of any and all surprises. And worse, it's for a movie that will clearly be utterly generic, have an easily-predicted plot and have no surprises to reveal. It's the type of competent, formulaic crap (and, of course, a remake) that seems to be the only thing Hollywood knows how to turn out anymore. There's not a hint of wit or originality to be found here, and enduring three or four similar previews in a row is enough to make anyone want to never go out to the movies again.

Ah, but then there's this.

Look, I could go on for days about Joel & Ethan Coen (Have I mentioned my theory that they're the cinematic equivalent to Steely Dan? Have I mentioned that's the highest praise I can muster?), but what's worth talking about here is the trailer itself: Whether it was put together by the Coens themselves or farmed out to some boutique, it's a thing of beauty. It has its own rhthym (literally--the thump thump thump against the wall), it shows plenty of footage from the movie itself and yet somehow reveals nothing of the plot, it is funny and disorienting and a little bit sad. And more than anything else, it makes me really, really want to see the movie.

Which is what a trailer should do, of course, but as we can see, almost never does.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


A good weekend spent mostly hanging out with Paul, which I mention mostly for one reason: As we tooled down SE 14th (which, due its abundance of used car lots, fast food joints and quickie motels, is by far the most endearingly tawdry major thoroughfare in Des Moines, and thus an entirely appropriate setting for anything involving Sylvester Stallone), we suddenly and inexplicably started singing Eye Of The Tiger. Actually, Paul started it, but he didn't know any of the words beyond the first line of the chorus, so I chimed in with the one additional line I actually know, and we just winged it for the rest.

I asked him if he'd ever seen any Rocky movies and he said no, and I pretty much decided, Well, that's it. Sure, he's not my kid, but there's no way any boy should enter his teen years without having seen Rocky. Well, okay, Paul's not even ten yet, but that's not important right now: The point is, Rocky is common currency among guys. You can't have not seen it--that's like saying you hate America.

And of course, you can't just see the first one and be done with it. Even aside from the fact that Eye Of The Tiger doesn't even get played until the third entry in the series--that alone makes it essential viewing for those with a taste for cinematic red meat--you have to at least sit through Rocky IV because at some point in life, someone you know (another guy, obviously) will quote that stupid speech our hero makes after he clobbers that Russian guy, and it will be important to know what the hell he's talking about.

I would have just sat him down and forced him to watch my copy, except I don't own any of the Rocky movies. (I don't own any Stallone movies, which is kind of surprising, since I can easily imagine myself enjoying regular hyper-ironic viewings of Over The Top.) Owning them is kind of redundant, since they play endlessly on cable, and they're exactly the kind of movie that actually benefits from frequent commercial breaks. (They provide regular opportunities to grab more beer and scrounge up additional snacks. Also, they allow regular respite from the punishing stupidity of too much Stallone-authored dialogue.) But since the time I spend with Paul isn't actually coordinated according to basic cable movie schedules, I'll probably wind up renting or buying the stupid things. For a hardcore cineaste, that will be kind of like buying porn--I'll need to pick up copies of Two Or Three Things I Know About Her and Last Year At Marienbad and throw Rocky in the middle, hoping no one will notice.

And what if I go through all that trouble, and Paul fails to be properly swayed by the macho poetry of Sylvester Stallone? Or worse, what if he really likes it? Rocky is just a gateway drug; soon, the poor kid could be needing some Rambo.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Remember about a week and a half ago, when I inexplicably decided to write about the mostly forgotten, hugely unloved 1983 film Krull? Sure you do, just as you'll recall only a few days ago, when I sadly revealed that my subconscious is so unspeakably dull I actually had a dream about turning on my computer.

So last night I woke up, rolled out of bed and, to my horror, realized an awful, awful truth: I JUST HAD A DREAM ABOUT WATCHING KRULL.

Specifically, I dreamed I watched Krull as I sat at my computer, noting what actions take place when because--apparently--I had some website devoted to the damned thing. Yeah, there's a good idea! If I wanted to get even fewer hits than this site already generates, I should start detailing Krull minutia. That way, I'd be guaranteed no readers at all.

Dammit, if I'm going to have dreams about watching movies I really don't care about, couldn't I at least be viewing American Beauty? That way I'd have topless Thora Birch to sidetrack my imagination, and it might turn into an entirely different kind of dream.

Monday, July 20, 2009


For years, people have told their tales in hard time, stories of broken childhoods, of cold, unfeeling step parents, of crazy, dysfunctional families, and my reaction tended to be the same: Thank God my life wasn't like that. I came from a happy family, all rooted in solid Midwestern values, growing up together on a farm, no hint of discord, no sign of trouble.

Of course, my older brothers refused to talk to each other, and occasionally got into fistfights. The girls in the family overachieved as the boys proudly, perversely underachieved. Dad was emotionally distant, and my only solid memories are of him kicked back in his recliner, a dirty magazine in one hand, a can of Grain Belt in the other, utterly disconnected from whatever was going on in the foreground. At least Mom was always there, the center of things, so relentlessly cheerful, a tireless booster for all of her kids...yet somehow it wasn't surprising when she revealed, much later in life, that her role as child bearer combined with the terrible isolation of country life often resulted in thoughts of suicide.

Still, for me, an idyllic existence: All the toys and comic books I ever wanted, and the entire farm to call my playground. True, I was always tense and withdrawn in social situations, especially family get-togethers, and my hatred of school resulted in terrible grades, and by even my third year I was well on my way to being a total burn-out. And there were the headaches, and the overwhelming depression; by eighth grade I'd started seeing a therapist. Later, there'd be multiple suicide attempts, a decade spent in emotional oblivion and a resigned feeling that life was something to be endured, not celebrated.

But, um, Mom and Dad didn't get divorced, so, you know, everything was great!

Since my mother died, the remains of my family have largely scattered to the winds. I've lost touch with or am actively estranged from most of them, just as they have largely disconnected from each other. And the sad thing is, I don't care. I faintly recall making a rambling speech at Mom's funeral, the last time all of us--brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews--were all together, and I remember telling them all I felt the need to say I loved them. A nice sentiment, but was it true? Did I? Do I? Have I ever? How can you love people you barely know?

All this has been weighing heavily on me recently because...well, I'm not sure, actually. But I've noticed lately how most of my childhood memories are of places, not people, and of quiet moments spent by myself, maybe accompanied by the dog as we ran along the creek, maybe watching John Wayne slaughter Indians on TV though no one else paid attention, maybe taking solace in the cathedral quiet of the row of evergreens behind the machine shed. Where are the other people in all these recollections?

Even in more recent memories, the times and the places are recalled more vividly than the carbon-based life forms who presumably inhabited them. The exact layout of the apartment in Iowa City is vivid in my mind, even as the wife with whom I shared it fades into an abstraction, a vague blur of something non-specific that coulda been.

Maybe that's why I've been thinking of family lately, as one relationship after another goes down in flames, another shrug, another cause to wonder why bother. Is my inability to form a lasting bond with a woman, to love and be loved, is this related to the family that spawned me? The fact that I don't even know the phone number or current whereabouts of most of my family members--Is that a problem? What does it mean that I haven't even bothered trying to track them down, or they me?

A couple of years before Mom died, I asked her about a story I'd heard on the radio, about a study suggesting mental illness was a genetic trait. Yeah, she said, she'd always wondered about that. She was speaking of my problems, and her own, and all of ours. Sometimes, she said, she saw us as a doomed family out of a Hawthorne novel, forever destined to skulk down endless dark hallways, cursing the wider world we'd never know, a world untouched by madness. (Granted, she phrased it in a slightly less overwrought manner, but she did invoke Hawthorne, so the purple prose is justified.)

But she also said, What's normal? Anxiety, despair, sorrow--who doesn't feel these things? And the depression she suffered when she was younger, which may have had unspoken and untold effects on her children, lifted as she got older. It didn't go away, it just...lessened. Eventually, she realized the daily rituals which had seemed so tedious, so soul-draining, had instead become comforting, and she experienced something she hadn't known before: contentment.

I try to hang onto that conversation, and I try to remember it whenever things get rough. But still there are questions: What were the rituals she found so comforting? Did they involve people, or things? In other words, did she take comfort from her children, or the things she did for them, like preparing meals and sewing clothes?

Because if it was the latter, it suggests that I'm bound to her in deeper ways than I imagined, that she preferred solitude to company. But that wasn't Mom at all: She was nothing if not gregarious, willing to talk (or listen) to anybody for hours at a time. And I'm...not like that. Or maybe I am, but it doesn't get me very far: I don't talk, I babble. And while that can be amusing in small doses, it ultimately becomes wearying, which explains why women who proclaim their love for me ultimately move on.

Ah yes, women. Even the ones I barely know, who are only there to fulfill basic biological needs, tend to have the same complaint as the long-termers: I'm too touchy-feely. That is, I want to hold them, even after the obvious physical acts have been completed, even when all they want to do is sleep. And it's no doubt true: I want to take them in my arms, embrace them and never let go, feel something, anything, a connection I will otherwise never know.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


3 AM or some such, stumbling out of bed, shuffling to the desk, hitting the button to turn on the computer. For a second I stand, watching the Compaq logo appear, signifying the start of the lengthy booting-up process. As I think how much I hate the phrase "booting-up," I hobble back to the warm, inviting bed.

And sleep. And wake, abruptly, blinking. The computer is dark, not even its comforting green power light shining with the promise of hours of time-killing hope. I look at my clock, my answering machine, all the potential signifiers of a power outage. They're working fine. Again, stumbling out of bed, shuffling to the desk, hitting the button. The light comes on. The screen illuminates. And suddenly I realize I had not powered up the computer earlier. I only dreamed I had.

In their dreams, many explore unreachable erotic idylls, or imagine unlimited wealth and power. Some confront truths too terrible to parse in the real world, or explore the farthest reaches of their consciousness. Some know joy they'll never never know in the waking hours, and some happily encounter friends and family long gone.

Me, I dream about hitting the ON button of my computer. Crap. Man, I gotta get a life...

Friday, July 17, 2009


Here's the deal: I was killing time in a Barnes & Noble yesterday when I happened to glance at the New Releases display, and there it was--At Last, a new album from Lynda Carter!

So, just to clarify, a well-known national chain store prominently displayed this as an item people might actually want to buy. Unlike, say, David Hasselhoff albums, which we all know exist but have never actually seen, this was there for the world to, uh, enjoy. And though I was tempted to take the damned thing over to a listening station so I could luxuriate in the sweet sounds of a large-breasted TV has-been desecrating the Harold Arlen songbook (there are covers of Come Rain And Come Shine and Blues In The Night), common sense overcame me. After all, I was in public.

But we're all alone here, aren't we? Thankfully, I couldn't find any Lynda-does-Arlen clips, but possibly worse, here she is having her way with Stephen Stills. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Honestly, I have no particular intention of turning this site into a series of grumblings about movies recently viewed on cable, but while sitting through the fiercely bland 1983 fantasy epic Krull, I had...well, not an epiphany, but a blinding flash of...something. Let me try to explain.

The early eighties will be remembered by many filmgoers as the time of The Great Sword & Sorcery Scare, when studios as one felt the inexplicable need to cram stories of Mighty Warriors, Fair Maidens, Lusty Peasants and Strange Creatures down our throats. It was the time of Conan The Barbarian, Dragonslayer, Beastmaster and...well, okay, those are the only titles I could come up with off the top of my head. But there were more, trust me. Sword & Sorcery epics were as common then as comic book-derived movies are now. It was impossible to go to the multiplex without walking past several bad Frazetta knockoff posters for some upcoming extravaganza showcasing a pec-flexing hero and barely-clad heroine. (Oooh, I just thought of a couple more: The hilarious Lou Ferigno vehicle Hercules and the unimaginitively titled The Sword And The Sorcerer.)

Since this it the type of thing that was being made, people were going to be hired to make them, whether they had any affinity for the genre or not. Which brings us to Krull, a movie as uninteresting as its title, and, like many of its ilk, a pretty transparent Star Wars imitation. (The opening credits even feature an enormous spaceship gliding majestically past the camera, a de rigeur shot at the time.) The by-the-numbers script is credited to Stanford Sherman, who has done nothing else of consequence. But the director was Peter Yates.

Although uneven, Yates has a filmography that included Bullitt, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle and Breaking Away. A sure hand with actors and a guy who knew how to stage a solid action scene, Yates' greatest strength has always been his ability to let each project find its own personality, to let the substance dictate the style. But what could he do with a script that has no substance whatsoever, that barely seems to have been written at all? Krull can't even be bothered to find a variation on its premise: A beautiful princess has been kidnapped by sinister nonhumans, and its up to our white, white hero (the non-legendary Ken Marshall, sporting a can't-commit-to-it beard) to gather a plucky band of followers to rescue her and...You could pretty much write the rest yourself, though likely you'd come up with something more interesting than what the filmmakers did.

The only thing interesting about Krull is the disconnect between the talent involved and the movie that was made. The cast includes Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Francesca Annis and one of my personal favorites, Freddie Jones. They hired the great Peter Suschitsky to photograph, John Huston mainstay Stephen Grimes to design the quasi-surrealist settings and Ray Lovejoy editor of 2001--2001, for God's sake!--to cut the thing together. Yates, apparently finding nothing to interest him in the script, finds time to reference everything from Cocteau to The Thief Of Bagdad to, incredibly enough, Mario Bava's Planet Of The Vampires. The whole thing is never less than professional, but never remotely interesting.

And the non-epiphany but nonetheless interesting thought that struck me as this thing ground on and on? Krull would be the future of movies: Lots of smart people lavishing huge amounts of time and care on projects they really didn't care about. Even those other sword & sorcery pictures I named earlier had something to recommend them, some slight twist in the formula. Not Krull; it delivers the most basic level of entertainment possible. Its talented director could leave not a single fingerprint to mark its individuality. The floodgates of mediocrity had opened: To survive, the great directors of the sixties and seventies would have to crank out absolute junk: Brian DePalma would jumpstart a franchise for Tom Cruise, Francis Coppola would direct Robin Williams in full-out man-child mode, Walter Hill and Joe Dante would do some of their best work for television.

Like almost every major studio movie cranked out these days, Krull isn't bad, not extravagantly, punishingly bad, not Xanadu bad. It just sits there, something to watch as you eat your popcorn, something to forget as soon as it ends, of no interest whatsoever, except for the little piece of your soul it steals as you watch.

Friday, July 10, 2009


With an unexpected day off yesterday, I divided my time between sitting slack-jawed in front of the computer and sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV. Two hours of that TV time was spent reacquainting myself with the 1976 comedy-thriller Silver Streak.

This movie seemed enormously entertaining back when I was eleven, and I remember enjoying it a couple times since, but I hadn't seen it in years. It doesn't have much of a reputation, except as the initial pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, and it was made by a team of familiar hacks, including director Arthur Hiller (the auteur of Love Story) and writer Colin Higgins (of Foul Play and Nine To Five infamy). Nonetheless, I thought it would be a pleasant time-killer, and I thought it might be further proof that even the most routine pictures from the seventies had a basic quality of craftsmanship, a respect for the audience, that you simply don't see today.

Boy, was I wrong. Absolutely nothing about Silver Streak works. Its racial attitudes seem to come from the pre-civil rights era (Pryor character is a petty thief, and every other black actor with a speaking part plays a porter, waiter or shoe-shine guy!), its sexual politics are wince-inducing, its comedy is rooted in stereotypes (Clifton James plays a variation of the dumb redneck cop he so unamusingly portrayed in Live And Let Die) and the suspense sequences are so maladroit all you can do is sit there and marvel at the sheer incompetence.

About the only fun to be had is counting all the seventies signifiers, from a briefly glimpsed Alka-Seltzer "Plop, plop, fizz fizz" ad to Wilder's flared pants and ankle boots, which are treated to an almost fetishistic series of close-ups. There's also some fun to be had for fans of seventies James Bond pictures, since in addition to James, we also get a pre-Jaws Richard Kiel as another lurching henchman with weird dental work...but when a movie has nothing to recommend it other than how it reminds you of other, marginally better movies, something is very wrong.

Yet Silver Streak remains a typical movie of its era. Critics like to view seventies cinema as some sort of lost Golden Age, when the likes of Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese were free to follow their muses wherever they would go. In fact, most films of that time were Big Dumb Entertainments like Silver Streak--or like so many movies now. The only difference is, however mind-numbingly silly something like Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen may be, it at least trusts its audience to follow along. With Silver Streak, a good fifteen minutes could be shaved off its protracted running time if you cut out all the endless re-stating of expository dialogue. (Wilder has to explain the premise of why he's taking a train instead of flying at least half a dozen times!) How stupid did they think viewers were? Did they think anyone cared about the plot in the first place?

Unfortunately, since there seems to be some newly-enacted law decreeing that every single movie from the seventies needs to be remade, we'll no doubt someday get a new version of Silver Streak that will combine the lazy plotting and stereotyped characters of the original with the quick-cut shaky-cam aesthetic of modern action cinema. I'd jokingly suggest it as a vehicle for Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, but I have a feeling that could actually happen, and I don't want to give anyone ideas...

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Apologies to all regular readers (I'd do the "both of you" gag, but even I'm getting sick of it) for the lack of activity around here. It's just...I feel like I have nothing to say, and no particular desire to express whatever it is I'm not feeling. My financial situation gets worse by the day, the future of my job seems somewhat in flux, my sleep patterns are all out of whack and I have no desire to do much of anything, really. Another bout with depression, in other words.

So why foist my misery on you? Well, I haven't been, and have no plans to do so. Sure, this site is all about mining my personal life for the amusement and possible edification of others, but there's just nothing going on here. I come home from work tired and filled with a vague despair, sit glassy-eyed in front of the computer for a few hours (even watching movies or listening to music seems like too much work), then go to bed, where I'll sleep for maybe an hour or two, then toss and turn for the rest of the night, dozing for a few minutes, then waking violently just as I begin to dream. The next day, the same pattern is repeated, and the next, and the next...

Maybe I'll be here occasionally with the random observation about...I dunno, whatever. If I'm not, it's all good, I'm probably half-heartedly reading comments on some animation site, comments about a movie I can't even force myself to watch because it's just too much work. Not much of a life, but for right now, it's all I've got.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


I know when I came back to this space I vowed to reduce the number of clip jobs, but the thing is, it's the Fourth Of July, so as an American and a writer, I felt a weird obligation to make some kind of statement about national identity, or patriotism, or some damned thing.

Originally I was going to write about Westerns as a great and wholly American art form, and when I realized that was too wide-ranging for a relatively limited space, I thought I'd narrow it down to Sam Peckinpah's Westerns as an expression of a Great American Artist, and then I realized since I'd likely make some mention of The Ballad Of Cable Hogue, I'd be obligated to mention Stella Stevens' nude scene, which I decided I needed to watch again, which got me, um, distracted.

Which wasted too much time, so instead I decided to do a grab bag clip job of some of the music that makes America great. I found a killer version of Where Or When by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, and figured I'd toss in some Roger Miller, Art Blakey, Beastie Boys, Marshall Crenshaw and, what the hell, even some Weird Al.

But mostly I wanted to include something by Harold Arlen, because he's surely one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced, but which song to showcase? Come Rain Or Come Shine? It's Only A Paper Moon? Blues In The Night? A Sleepin' Bee? The Man That Got Away? Seriously, I couldn't decide--the guy just wrote too many great songs.

Then I realized time was getting tight, and it's time to head off to work. So here's something that really makes me proud to be American--Jerry Lewis! And sadly, this is pretty much what it looks like when I dance.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


It's good right now, the back door of her apartment open onto the fire escape, affording a view of the neighborhood, of people out and about on this perfect summer evening, the long shadows and the azure sky, the smell of backyard barbecues wafting all the way up here into her kitchen. And she looks so good, her robe undone, her black skin still glistening from the bath, her smile so fucking inviting. When she pauses to rub her chest against mine, I indicate the open door. "Let 'em watch," she laughs.

A perfect moment, then, but as always, the spell fades quickly enough. She's playing that damned Mariah Carey CD again, and she starts to sing along to Without You. Her voice is loud and off-key--the sound of a drunk--and she turns around and reaches into the refrigerator for the second can of Natural Ice she's had since I've been here.

I sigh. "It's really not a good idea to drink when you're on antidepressants."

"I like to drink." She shrugs. "I think it relaxes me. I'm a happy drunk. Aren't I? And I'm more fun when I drink. Right?" She reaches down the front of my boxers.

I pull the robe from her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor, and we press together. "You know the door's still open, right?" I ask.

"Maybe we should go to the bedroom."

We've been seeing each other for...what? Two moths? Three? The rules should be clear here, since she's just a rebound, an in-betweener, the first woman I've been with since my marriage dissolved. Whatever we have, it's essentially meaningless. Right? Though we've spent so many nights together, shared intimacies in so many different ways, we remain strangers in each other's lives, connected only for the moment.

Still, she feels so good in my arms, and it's so comforting to wake up beside somebody, it's tempting to just give in, to ignore all the warning signs: the drinking, the mood elevators, the irrational behavior. Just the fact that I'm here, relaxed and safe in her presence, seems as though it must mean something. When she speaks of her feelings for me, of the future we could have together, I'm tempted, I want to believe that somehow the stability that has so far eluded me is somehow attainable, and she is somehow the key.

Then my foot kicks over an empty can of Natural Ice while we're in the middle of our vigorous if somewhat desultory lovemaking, and I realize once again this is not the person I'm meant to be with. Still, there are rules, and I try to play along. She gazes deeply into my eyes and murmurs, "You're so good for me, Edward. You know I love you, don't you?"

And I say, "I love you, too," and wonder if she knows I'm lying.